This page is about stroke symptoms that are not caused by a stroke.

Stroke symptoms can sometimes be due to other health conditions that affect the brain or body, known as a stroke mimic. It’s also possible for a stroke to have symptoms that resemble other conditions.

On this page:
Diagnosing a stroke mimic
When the cause can’t be diagnosed
Functional neurological symptoms
Diagnosing functional neurological symptoms and FND
Treatment 

Diagnosing a stroke mimic

When someone has stroke symptoms, they should have emergency medical care within a few hours to give the best chance of having early treatment. The medical team carries out scans and checks to discover if it’s a stroke, and what type of stroke. 

In around 20% of cases, the symptoms aren’t due to a stroke. The person will have more checks and tests to find out what’s wrong. Some of the most common stroke mimics are seizures, migraine, fainting and serious infections. Once the person is diagnosed, they can have treatment or support to manage their symptoms. 

When the cause can’t be diagnosed

Not all stroke symptoms are due to a diagnosable condition. Some people continue to have stroke-like effects for some time, and this may be diagnosed as a functional neurological condition. This can be known by different names such as ‘functional neurological disorder’ (FND), ‘functional stroke’, or a ‘functional stroke mimic’. 

Functional neurological disorder (FND)

Functional neurological symptoms are real symptoms, but which are not caused by disease or damage to the nervous system. They are called functional because they affect how the person functions, rather than being caused by damage to the brain.  Functional neurological symptoms can include:

  • Loss of motor control (such as muscle weakness in arms and legs).
  • Sensory symptoms.
  • Speech problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Visual symptoms.
  • Cognitive problems.

If the problems last a long time and become disabling, a person may be diagnosed with functional neurological disorder (FND). 

Diagnosing functional neurological symptoms and FND

FND is usually diagnosed by a neurologist or a neuropsychiatrist. A neurologist is a doctor who deals with disorders of the nervous system and a neuropsychiatrist is a doctor who deals with mental disorders caused by damage to the nervous system, typically the brain. 

Some people worry that being diagnosed with FND means that doctors think it’s “all in their head” or that they're “pretending”. This is not true. Functional neurological symptoms are real symptoms. 

Treatment

FND is poorly understood, and treatment approaches vary. Over time, many people find that their symptoms improve or resolve completely. Someone with FND might have help with recovery, such as treatment for muscle weakness and psychological support. Approaches to managing FND can include strategies for managing symptoms. In some cases, where people have problems with movement, they may also receive support from physiotherapists and occupational therapists. Psychological support can help with managing some symptoms and promoting self-care. You can read about types of treatment and support for the effects of stroke.

More resources for support and information about FND

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